Smart knows he has bigger issues than who starts at quarterback

Georgia coach Kirby Smart was more concerned about bigger picture issues than his quarterback as prseason camp opened. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com)

Georgia coach Kirby Smart was more concerned about bigger picture issues than his quarterback as prseason camp opened. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com)

ATHENS — The two biggest questions surrounding the Georgia football program are: 1) Who will start at quarterback? and 2) When will Kirby Smart announce who will start at quarterback?

At the risk of breaking tradition of obsessing over every trivial detail of everything remotely related to news, hint of a news, or a burp in Athens — and for you, we have Dawgnation.com! —  it really doesn’t matter who starts at quarterback against North Carolina Sept. 3. A game isn’t about one series or one quarter, and a season certainly isn’t about one game (a non-conference one at that).

“I know it’s what everybody’s talking about, but to me it’s not the be-all, end-all who it is and when it gets announced,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Monday. “The issues more important to me are: Can we get movement on a double-team? Can Isaiah Wynn hold up and block a big defensive end? There a lot of parts that will affect a game that’s not under the quarterback’s control.”

Smart held his first official news conference on the day of his first official pre-season practice as head coach in Athens. The quarterback competition between freshman Jacob Eason and Greyson Lambert came up, of course, but Smart made it clear he was more concerned about implementing his program and clear big-picture objectives of camp for all the players: identifying leaders, getting players to buy into a team concept (“A lot of guys are about me, me, me”) and monitoring how players handle adversity and success.

Smart’s right. This is not to suggest that quarterback play isn’t important. It is the most important position on the team. Eason has off-the-charts talent, even if it’s believed he’s currently a bit overwhelmed  by everything that is being put on his plate. But ultimately Smart’s success as coach will be defined by how well he gets players to buy in, how physical they are and whether they show up in big games (too often a weakness of the Mark Richt era).

It’s possible Eason absorbs enough of the playbook and concepts between now and Week 1 that he wins the starting job, but as Smart said, “It’s more important how the guy plays than who starts.”

And while the North Carolina game has an increased level of importance because it’s the first game of the season and of Smart’s tenure, let’s be real: While a loss would be deflating and/or arouse anger in the fan base, would it matter once the SEC season begins?

“One thing I’ve learned, and mostly from Nick (Saban), is that you don’t put entire seasons into one game,” Smart said. “That’s what people have done with this game — because it’s my first game, because there’s the quarterback mystery, there’s the running back mystery.

“There’s a belief that our whole season hinges on the North Carolina game and it doesn’t. It’s not as important as Missouri. It not as important as Ole Miss. They’re all important. You could say it’s the greatest blessing ever if we lose (and play well in the conference) or it could be a terrible thing if we beat North Carolina but don’t set the team up for the next game.”

As Smart said, the college football playoff system “has changed things. It’s basically set up that you have to win you league. Our goal has to be with that perspective. You don’t put all of your eggs in that first game.”

All that said, I believe Smart would like to Eason in the season opener because he has a greater upside but he won’t push it if Lambert is clearly the more game-ready quarterback. And Eason’s not there yet.

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